The main thesis of the book is that for many christian youth workers (including myself), we have misunderstood the meaning of relational youth work. We have used relationships as a means to an end (ie influencing young people) instead of seeing relationships as the purpose. We build relationships with young people so that we can influence their decisions, character etc. But is that really an honest relationship?
Let me contrast the two approaches by using questions that Root poses (and I have asked myself in the past)
Influence is focused on how questions:
How can we get kids to come?
How can we get them committed to this group/ the faith?
This makes us simply a programmer. We construct events to bring young people and, ultimately, influence them. What Root suggests is that this approach does not take into account the ‘whole’ young person. We are simply interested in their decisions.
In contrast, ‘place-sharing’ or real relational youth work asks who questions:
Who are these young people and what is impacting them?
Who am I alongside them?
This moves us from being programmers to theologians. We are to share in their space and emulate the incarnation.
When i started at South Beach Baptist Church at the start of August, I began to ask myself the how questions. It had became about running events that attracted young people. This is not completely wrong but if I keep following this approach it will lead to disappointment. This approach allows the young people to simply be consumers.
Let me end with this quote from Root that inspired me further in this approach.
“I began to realize that incarnational had nothing to do with relational magnetism, as though being incarnational meant you could draw adolescents to yourself like movie stars…[the incarnation] is about a God who so loved the world that [he] entered into the world in the humanity of God’s Son to be with and for those in the world so they might be with God (and therefore have salvation).”
This has left me with many questions and thoughts and as I begin to share this vision with the rest of my youth work team, I hope to blog a little more about it.